Film Commission review hits spot with minister, producers

Four years ago, The National Business Review (Feb 3, 2006) called for a drastic re-think of the arts, including major changes to the New Zealand Film Commission.Four years on, the Minister for Arts Culture and Heritage, Christopher Finlayson has received a report written by Sir Peter Jackson (pictured) and film academic David Court, reviewing the New Zealand Film Commission legislation.The two spent nearly a year interviewing stakeholders and experts throughout the film industry to produce the thorough and thought-provoking review.

Four years ago, The National Business Review (Feb 3, 2006) called for a drastic re-think of the arts, including major changes to the New Zealand Film Commission.

Four years on, the Minister for Arts Culture and Heritage, Christopher Finlayson has received a report written by Sir Peter Jackson (pictured) and film academic David Court, reviewing the New Zealand Film Commission legislation.

The two spent nearly a year interviewing stakeholders and experts throughout the film industry to produce the thorough and thought-provoking review.

Mr Finlayson says, “The reviewers have made certain findings across a wide-range of areas, which I will be looking at more closely.

“At a higher level, the reviewers posed themselves the question ‘Do we need the New Zealand Film Commission? Their answer was an unreserved: yes.

“With that in mind, I will be looking very closely with officials and the Film Commission at the review’s findings and recommendations, on how to further improve the Film Commission’s performance in the next 30 years of the New Zealand film industry.”

Main recommendations

The review makes a number of suggestions, including:

• A more strategic long term vision which will allow for more flexibility;

• The commission should move toward being more “talent” focused than project-focused;

• A larger development team within the commission;

• Bringing short film funding back to the commission and using short films as part of a more integrated strategy for developing feature film talent;

• Relaxing the current reliance on producer-centred projects; and

• Continuing the Screen Production Incentive Fund.

“Some of the suggestions – such as increasing funding for the New Zealand Film Archive and the division of responsibility between staff and the board – relate to concerns that have already begun to be addressed since the review began,” Mr Finlayson said.

“This increases my confidence this government is moving in the right direction to help the creative industries.”

He said other recommendations would be considered along with officials, the commission and his colleagues, in particular Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee, before recommendations are taken to Cabinet.

Enthusiatic reception

SPADA (the Screen Production and Development Association of New Zealand) is enthusiastic about the review.

“We like the unreserved yes to the existence of the New Zealand Film Commission and the recognition of the pivotal role the commission has played in the development of the New Zealand film industry,” SPADA chief executive Penelope Borland says.

“The review has been written in the spirit of constructive change and some of the recommendations have already been implemented by the NZFC, such as changes to the decision making process so that staff greenlight projects rather than the board who have a policy and strategy role.” 

This was partially a function of the time lag from the commissioning of the report to its delivery.

“The review outlines the difficulty of the mandate for the NZFC in supporting the whole industry and SPADA agrees with the reviewers that it’s essential to have a long term game plan and every dollar spent and decision made should be aimed at achieving some aspect of it,” Ms Borland says.

Talent spotting

SPADA was also supportive of the overall direction of the review with regard to the commission’s role in spotting and investing in filmmaking talent and retaining that talent in New Zealand.

This included suggestions for "incentivising filmmakers such as creating a box office incentive fund to reward success, a distribution fund to embolden distributors in their engagement with New Zealand films and connect them with audiences, and the recommendation that the NZFC should move further to a full equity partnership to a 50/50 recoupment split with production companies."

The proposal that the NZFC’s equity share in films reverts to the producer five years after delivery will be welcomed, SPADA says, and many producers will agree with the observations on a potential shift in the commission’s sales agency role to work with producers in securing the most appropriate sales agent for their film.

“Overall the NZFC has already started to move toward information sharing and working in partnership with the industry and so the practical suggestions made by Sir Peter Jackson and David Court that build on that move towards partnership are very welcome,” Ms Borland says.